Other texts from the retrospective catalogue
Excerpt from 'Junk Mail' published by Penguin Books in 1996. His article first appeared in the Evening Standard Magazine in May 1993
DO YOU BELIEVE IN Tl-IE WESTWAY?
Ballard’s vision of the impact of the car on the city is, of course, highly ambivalent. His books Crash, Conrrete Island and Atroriry Exhibition are at one and the same time condemnations of automotive alienation and celebrations
of technological achievement, the sheer exhilaration of high speed.
Another artist who has been infected with the same ambivalence, and turned it to superb effect in considering the Westway as an artwork, is the painter Oliver Bevan. It was David Lee who gave me Bevan’s number. Maunsell sponsored Bevan’s exhibition of Westway paintings at the Barbican in january 1993.
Bevan also came to the Westway via car trouble, although not as serious as that of Ballard's protagonist. His ‘old Ford broke down and was towed to a garage under the elevated roundabout. The painter was entranced by the shapes the flyover's decks described and embarked on a series of large-scale canvases that elegantly capture the strange dichotomies the road represents: its beauty andits terror, its light and its darkness.
‘I think the Hyover conforms to old notions of the sublime,” he told me as we chatted at his Shepherd’s Bush home, which also doubles as his studio. ‘lt has a kind of awful beauty. I can’t paint anything that doesn’t fill me with conflicting feelings. The Westway flyover is also a marvellous fulfilment, on a great scale, of the sort of lines and curves that we associate with the art deco period. ‘It’s my contention that, just as the railtermini ofLondon, which were viewed in the nineteenth century as being merely civil-engineering works, are now held superior to much of Victorian architecture, so the Westway, the Hammersmith Flyover and other examples of twentieth-ccntury monumentalism will be appreciated as being far more important than the modernist buildings.”
The rain, the glassy sheen of the cobbles, a few reflections of electric street lights which bear witness to the sudden darkness of the summer storm now heading away; in the distance a passer by, in the foreground a little girl whose silhouette is cropped by the overly large umbrella which protects her. The sensation is familiar, the moment precise, you can almost smell the hot damp ground, hear the pattering of raindrops on the fabric, witness the removal of the days’s fine dust, the miraculous transparency of the atmosphere, the intensity of colour under humid conditions.
All of Oliver’s painting speaks of fluidity, transparency, watery reflections, the transformation of our familiar surroundings into something unexpexted.
Oliver dares to be figurative, but with a contemporary slant: his cropping of the image, his fields of colour, the use of empty spaces, all testify to the culture and savoir faire of an artist of the 21st century. Everything is there without overstatement or sentimentality. The virtuosity is in its own abdication, the refusal of the spectacular.
Pierre Gangloff, Vienne, 2012.
Peter Ackroyd 1997
Preface to the catalogue of 'Urban Mirror', the exhibition in the National Theatre foyer in 1997
Oliver Bevan is an artist who evokes the true form of the city within its multiple and varied features. That is why his work represents a world which is at on ce tender and transitory, with moments of stillness or isolation caught within the spectacle of urban business. He is one of those artists working within the tradition of Auerbach and Kossoff, who have a genuine painterly reverence for the real features of the streets and the people. In that sense he can claim a spiritual affinity with the line of London painters which stretches back as far as William Hogarth.